The Mentoring Side of the S&D Culinary Challenge

S&D Coffee & Tea’s signature event, the S&D Culinary Challenge, continues to grow and develop to meet the needs of its student contestants and strengthen relationships with professional chefs.

In its sixth year, the event now includes a new mentoring component; the finalists have been paired with some of Charlotte’s most notable chefs who will mentor them and help polish their culinary and presenting skills in preparation for the final competition.

Chef mentors include Clark Barlowe, owner of Heirloom; Jon Fortes, owner of Flipside Café; Cody Suddreth, executive chef at The King’s Kitchen; Luca Annunziata, owner of Passion8; and Blair Cannon, sous chef at Charlotte Country Club and the winner of the first S&D Culinary Challenge in 2012. Along with Chef Cannon, Chefs Barlowe and Fortes are proud JWU graduates.

The mentors see working with the finalists as an opportunity to pass along the knowledge they’ve gained throughout their careers, with many of them recalling their own experiences as mentees.

“The biggest influence on my career was Chef Matt Gennuso at Chez Pascal restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island,” said Chef Barlowe. “He was the first chef to really take me under his wing and show me how to work with whole animals; how to change the menu seasonally; how to work with local ingredients and make them work with our own style.”

These mentors also have a lot riding on the S&D Culinary Challenge competition; in addition to the top student chef receiving a $5,000 grand prize, the winning chef mentor will also receive a $5,000 donation to benefit the charity of his choice.

“The charity that I would like to receive the prize if I’m fortunate enough to win is No Kid Hungry Share our Strength,” said Chef Fortes. “For years now — about 10 years — I’ve been an integral part of putting on Taste of the Nation here in Charlotte and feeding hungry children. The money will stay here in Rock Hill and will help with education, because we know a child who is full when they go to school learns a lot more than a child that is hungry.”

This event — and the mentoring component in particular — speaks to S&D’s commitment to the development of tomorrow’s culinary stars and the chef community as a whole.

Check out our Facebook page to view videos of this year’s contestants and mentors. And be sure to follow S&D on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on March 15 for live updates during the S&D Culinary Challenge finals!